OK, bit of a sacred cow this one, but let's talk about Have I Got News For You and why it simply isn't funny any more.
Let me be honest, I grew up with Have I Got News For You. First broadcast in the autumn of 1990, when I was just eleven years old, the series was perhaps the first or among the first to show me that you could be funny about serious issues. Have I Got News For You, or HIGNFY as it is abbreviated, moved from BBC2 to BBC1 in 2000 and lost its original presenter in 2002, when Angus Deayton was forced to leave when his private life of drugs and paying for sex became the news. This was the second time the line up had changed in the show's history (Merton having previously briefly left the show for a series in 1996 because he was tired of the format and believed himself to be 'stuck in a rut') and for the last fifteen years the show has been helmed by a different guest host each week. There have been 54 series of the show so far.
And doesn't it feel like it?
I can't really blame Merton for his obvious disinterest (well actually I can, he's getting paid to sit there!) because HIGNFY has become deeply tired. I'd have more respect for him if he actually returned to the principles he held 21 years ago and took a break from the show, rather than sit there week in, week out looking so utterly bored and believing that wearing a cravat is hilarious and a worthwhile contribution to the programme. Paul, it's not.
When it started, HIGNFY was fresh and populated by daring young satirists and comedians who were happy to take potshots at the establishment and the status quo. But Ian Hislop is 57 now and Merton is 60: they are the establishment now, and the cosy, out of touch boys club they have cultivated down the years was never more obvious than in this latest series when guest host Jo Brand had to slap the all male panel down and point out that, actually, sexual harrassment allegations aren't funny and they must be taken seriously. It made the show watchable...for all the wrong reasons.
And that's another issue that really bugs me: since the BBC edict that all panel shows must contain at least one woman per episode, HIGNFY has consistently ensured it does the very least to get by. If a woman is hosting, then it's usually the case that the other two guests sitting beside Hislop and Merton will be male. Granted, it's not always the case, but 9 times out of 10 it most definitely is, and that stinks. Like a lot of the BBC's output in terms of news and comedy, HIGNFY is now totally behind the times. Created in the '90s, HIGNFY was definitely of its time. It's born into Blairism; the disgust of Thatcherism and the optimism of something better, but just like Blairism, it has had its day. It's no longer relevant, its woefully middle class and it holds a sneering contempt for anything else. In the '90s it spoke to teenagers and young people, but I doubt it does now. Most young people can see through the bias and snobbery it holds for new ideas and developments as it toes the BBC party line of how they're the only news outlet you can trust, that 'Corbyn is deluded', 'Russia is corrupt and bad', and 'Scottish independence is a silly idea'. And yes we all know Trump's an idiot, but we need something more satirical surely than people just parroting that?
It's the same with Private Eye, Hislop's 'day job'. In 1986, Hislop acceded Richard Ingrams to the role of editor when it was felt the the magazine needed new blood. At that time, Ingrams had been the magazine's only editor since its inception in 1961. Hislop's tenure has overtaken Ingrams' by six years now. There are many really good politically astute and intelligent comedians out there just now (Sara Pascoe and Josie Long immediately spring to mind) but they're not getting the opportunity to make a name for themselves with their own show because the old guard refuses to make way. We live in a confusing age of political turbulence and unrest in which the UK entertainment industry seems desperate to create its defining satirical comment to rival anything that Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are doing stateside. The 10 O'Clock Show, The Nightly Show, The Fake News Show and The MASH Report have all tried to do this, with some mixed to terrible results, but it's only the stale HIGNFY that continues to survive. And what is it's legacy? HIGNFY is the show that has helped cultivate the commercial appeal of odious Tory MP's like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, happily giving them the limelight because the image they chose to present audiences appears 'funny' rather than dangerous, which in reality is what they truly are.
It's time this programme was put out to pasture. It won't be of course, because the BBC are content to flog a dead horse when they know that its longevity means it will always have an audience rather than attempt to produce something new.